For the Love of Prepositions and Affixes Part 16 — Inter Alia

The very ancient prefix ‘inter’ is found everywhere these days.

It stretches back to Proto-Indo-European *antar and its form remained relatively unchanged in the Sanskrit of Ancient India, in which language, it is used to refer to the internal world of the soul.

By the time of the Ancient Greeks, it had shifted to the guts; whence enteritis and gastroenterology.

And by the time it reached Ancient Rome, it had been bleached to a mere prefix meaning vaguely ‘among’ or ‘between’ or very little indeed.

Compared with these two humble Anglo-Saxon words, however, ‘inter-’ is a prefix whose stock is definitely on the rise.

We prize intelligence (human or artificial)—literally the ability to pick out the right things from a mass of others.  

We value interaction, interpersonal skills, intercultural exchanges and international relations, and we find out about all these things on the Internet.

Medical treatments, works of contemporary art, urban planning projects, and family discussions with troubled members are now all routinely called ‘interventions’—a bland word, whose only saving grace comes from having ‘inter’ up front to flaunt its modernity.   


And yet, it is precisely in this hyper-interconnected modern world of interventions that we are constantly being interrupted and interfered with: the inner realm of the mind numbed and drained of content; boarded up and put out for sale; silenced and quietly interred.


For the Love of Prepositions and Affixes Part 15: re- and wer-

Here is a little quiz.

What do the words ‘prose’ and ‘verse’ and ‘conversation’ and ‘weird’ ‘worms’ ‘wriggling’ ‘towards’ you have in common with economic ‘worth’, ‘worry’, ‘wrongdoing’ and every word that begins with the prefix ‘re-’: ‘return’, ‘reverse’, ‘revolution’, ‘revision’, ‘remembrance’ and all the rest?

The answer is the Proto-Indo-European root *wer(t)- meaning ‘turn’ or ‘bend,’ which turns up as prefix re- and suffix –vert in Latin, and as a wer- wor- or wr- prefix in Germanic languages such as English.

Tempted we may be to deceive ourselves into thinking that the words ‘word,’ ‘world’ and ‘awareness’ too derive from the same root but alas they do not.

In fact, at least seven other distinct Indo-European roots all turn up as wer- or something similar to it in more modern languages.

There is the wer- of ‘air’ and ‘aura’, of ‘arias’ and ‘aerobics’, ‘arteries’ and ‘meteors’.

And then there is wer- of watching out and warding off, found in ‘aware’, ‘beware’, ‘warden’, ‘warehouse’, ‘wary’, ‘hardware’, ‘software’, ‘reverence’ and ‘veneration’.

And there is the wer- of covering found in ‘warrants’, ‘guarantees’, ‘garnishes’ and ‘garages’.

And there is also wer- meaning human being as in ‘werewolf’ and ‘virility’.

Combined with IE *gher(d), which has also given us ‘gardens’ and ‘yards’, this last ‘werewolf’ prefix also provides us with the very world (*weregherd) of Earth on which, should we need reminding, we are doomed forever to live.

And, were this not enough, there is also the wer- of ‘word’ and ‘verb’, and the wer- of ‘veracity’ and ‘verisimilitude’.

And, more disturbing still, there is also the wer- of ‘war’ and ‘worse’.

‘Dike eris, eris dike’, as the old philosopher put it. Law is war and war is law.

Language is a wayward tangled mess indeed, with sounds and meanings forever converging and diverging as they hurtle through eternity together on the lips of hasty-tongued human beings. What rhapsodies we are apt to wrest from the vortex of adversity into which we are thus thrust by peevish fate.

The /w/ sound is also one of the most prevalent in world languages and one of the first to be mastered by infants. This phoneme is more primordial—more inchoate and pre-maternal—than /m/, reminding us of the womb to which we are wont to revert.

The idea of twisting and bending things is likewise very primeval and it should come as no surprise that it ends up lending its name to our entire universe, wrought as it is of quantum entanglement in our prose and verse, and war of all against all.

For the Love of Prepositions Part 14 — Round and Around

Round and Around

In my previous post in this series I remarked on the fact that the Ministry of Truth that appears in George Orwell’s 1984 is frequently misquoted as ‘Ministry for Truth’.

Such almost universal misquotations are much commoner than one might imagine. Michael Hoey in his eye-opening study of Lexical Priming notes that the Jules Verne novel, the title of whose first official English translation was Around the World in 80 Days, is almost universally misquoted by journalists as ‘round the world’ especially in articles on yacht races, luxury cruises and the like.

Hoey notes that the original translation of Verne’s title (Le Tour du Monde en 80 Jours) is infelicitous. ‘Round’ is the more commonly used preposition where literal circular motion is involved, while ‘around’ is used when we mean ‘all over’ or ‘throughout’. Writers would thus seem to prefer to follow prevalence of use rather than accurate citation. Some more recent translations reflect this.

‘Round’ and ‘around’ also provide a good illustration of different phases in the historical process of language change that linguists call grammaticalization.

A corruption of the Latin adjective ‘rotundus’ meaning ‘like a wheel’ (rota), ‘round’ still preserves its original lexical sense and can be used as an adjective to mean ‘circular’ or ‘spherical,’ as in the phrase ‘The earth is round.’

‘Around,’ on the other hand, has been fully grammaticalized and lost this more specific meaning. In fact, ‘around’ can be used to refer not only to approximate values but also to anything vaguely located in time or space. “They live around here” means “They live somewhere in this neighborhood”. ‘I’ve been around a long time’ is a euphemism for ‘I’m old’.

For the Love of Prepositions (and affixes) Part 10b — Ob- continued…

[Another post in my ongoing series on prepositions and affixes]

For the Love of Prepositions Part 10b

Ob- continued…

‘Against’, ‘at’, ‘before’, ‘towards’, ‘upon’, ‘with regard to’, ‘in the way’: the Latin prefix ob- and its Greek counterpart epi- are by no means short of meanings.

But, while Greek ‘epi-‘ has become the preserve of esoteric erudite terms such as ‘epistemology’ and ‘epidermis’, ‘epideictic’ and ‘epinephrine’, Latin ob- remains earthily ensconced in common parlance and has, over time, accrued a semantic crust that specializes in signifying obstruction.

And yet, despite, or perhaps because of this somewhat obstreperous reputation, ob-, through objectivity and observation, has somehow insinuated itself into the very nerves and sinews of our modern empiricist, scientific view of the world. Ob- has gotten under our skin indeed.

Object has a strange history; that of observe is stranger still.

Meaning literally something thrown before us like an apple of discord, the litigious Romans used the term obiecta primarily to refer to the charges brought against the defendant in a court of law.

By extension, Medieval scholars came to use the word to refer to things obvious to sense-perception and hence also that to which cognition reaches out. The grammatical sense derived from this appeared much later and is not found in English until well into the 18th century boom in linguistic prescriptivism.  

The Romans called the case of this part of speech ‘accusative’ by way of mistranslation of Greek aitiatike, which would more accurately be rendered ‘causative’.

The Greeks of course got it right. It is the object that causes action in the subject, not vice versa.

The object from this more ancient perspective is thus not something summoned into being or subject to our will but something beckoning to be reached out to: an essential part of the essentially graspable comprehensible, intelligible world.

And yet there remains something mysterious about objects that entices and yet remains fundamentally unidentifiable: celestial bodies, UFOs and foreign objects embedded in human tissue, in the stomach or the eye.  Objets trouvés in unclassifiable museum displays.

The object is the cause of our curious inquiry. The object of epistemology.

While ‘object’ has shifted meaning over time, the verb ‘observe’ sprang into the language of the Ancient Romans already decked out in its full array of modern meanings and collocations. It means as it has always meant ‘keep watch’, ‘wait’, ‘guard’, ‘notice’, ‘care for’, ‘heed’, ‘respect’, ‘abide by’, and ‘obey’.

The underlying root of ‘servus’ slave is now somewhat obscured but still makes its presence felt, standing at once over and under us, like a patient guard(ian), hiding in plain sight.

Watchers serve their charges by blocking the way. We observe patients in hospital to keep them safe from harm and we observe convicts in panoptical penitentiaries to keep us safe from them.

We observe laws and we observe the movements of stars and planets in the heavens. We observe customs and holy days. Our social life is grounded in observance and our science in observation.

In laboratories and observatories we keep careful watch over a world full of daemons and baleful celestial beings that have no reason to wish us well. With our reason we attempt to keep these always ultimately unidentifiable objects firmly within our purview. Held tight or kept at a safe distance, we ensure that they are always kept closely in check.

For the Love of Prepositions Part 12 …in the time of coronavirus

In this time of global pestilence and need for isolation, many people have understandably been posting on social media about immunity. The preposition they use after this word or after the corresponding adjective ‘immune’ varies. Sometimes it is ‘to’, sometimes ‘from’.

I am not a prescriptive grammarian and the purpose of these blogposts is never to police the way people employ language but to reflect on the social meaning of shifting language norms… In this case, however, the precise use of terms may determine the way people perceive a lethal disease and behave in response to it. There may therefore be some justification for greater caution in this specific instance.

‘Immune to’ and ‘immune from’ are both correct but they have different meanings.

The first is a medical term. It means that your body has developed antibodies that may protect you from contracting a disease. Usually, you have developed these antibodies as a result of already having been exposed to infection. Of course, like many technical terms, it can also be used figuratively.

[1] I am immune to criticism

means ‘you can criticize me, but it doesn’t upset me’.

‘Immune from’ by contrast is a legal term. It means that a judge has decreed that you are exempt from something, usually some kind of burden or penalty. If a witness is ‘immune from prosecution,’ it means that they cannot be charged with a crime, even if they have in fact committed one. This may be the case in plea deals, for example. Again, the term can be used figuratively.

[2] I am immune from criticism

means ‘people aren’t allowed to criticize me’.

There is clearly a big difference between statement [1] and statement [2]. The latter suggests arrogance or unfair privilege; the former indicates forbearance.

The legal use of the term is much more ancient. It goes back to Latin and Roman Law. Immunology, is, unfortunately, a field of knowledge that is much younger than the legal profession. It is therefore understandable that laypeople tend to use ‘from’ in all contexts and think legalistically about issues that have nothing to do with the law. This is especially likely to occur if these issues involve relatively novel complex concepts, such as immune responses and antigens. However, in a medical context, use of ‘from’ may be misleading… fatally misleading in fact…

No-one is immune from a virus, even if they are immune to it. To suggest the former is possible at best invites complacency, at worst justifies eugenics. To expect the former invites mistrust with regard to vaccination. Both are dangerous attitudes in a time of crisis.

Of course, few who use ‘immune from’ inappropriately in this way have any conscious malign intent. However, over time, persistent repetition of such imprecise use of language nudges people unconsciously as a herd in the direction of complacency, callousness, mistrust, and lack of care.

People who do not care about language probably do not care about people either. This is a malady as insidious as any disease.

There is, however, another preposition that is used with ‘immune’, albeit far less frequently. This alternative is ‘against’.

Use of ‘against’ in this context could be conceived as wrong, if we define ‘wrong’ linguistically-speaking to mean ‘insufficiently frequent to be considered standard usage’. If, however, we define linguistically wrong as meaning ‘lacking due precision,’ there are perhaps good logical arguments in favor of a shift to ‘against’ in medical contexts. It is, therefore, no surprise that use of the phrase ‘immunity against’ is more common among scientists, especially those whose native language is not English, for whom the turn of phrase does not sound ‘strange’.  ‘Against’ is also more common with the abstract noun than with the adjective. This again suggests that it is preferred in more technical contexts.

‘Against’ has the advantage of echoing the Latin prefix used in scientific neologisms such as antibody and antigen. It also suggests the metaphor of an ongoing battle that may be won or lost, which is more appropriate than that of inviolable protection from… It would not be the first time that non-native speakers taught us how best to use the English language.


A Brief Statistical Survey

I checked the frequency of occurrence of all three prepositions with the words ‘immune’ and ‘immunity’ in texts accessible through Google. To simplify the search, I restricted it to ‘chickenpox,’ in order to rule out non-medical uses and avoid ongoing controversies surrounding Covid-19.

The results were as follows.

  immune immunity
to 13700 (73%) 15300 (66%)
from 4510 (24%) 3290 (14%)
against 648 (3%) 4720 (20%)



Someone asked me about ‘for’. To my mind, this sounds very strange with the adjective but not with the abstract noun. I, therefore, checked the figures for this preposition. ‘Immune for’ registers a frequency of 10 (0.0%); ‘immunity for’ registers 1,900 (7.5%) in the context searched for above. This confirms my instinct and justifies not (yet) considering these as forms in standard use.

I will in future post long overdue discussions of ‘to’, ‘for’ and ‘of’ as part of this ongoing series on prepositions and my love of them.

For the Love of Prepositions Part11

For the Love of Prepositions Part 11—Till Death us do Part

Till, until, unto and unless

If ever a reminder were needed that, where language is concerned, rules can, will and should be broken, the well-known phrase from the Anglican wedding vows with which I title this post is surely one of them. The phrase deviates from standard present-day English in various respects. It does not obey strict Subject-Verb-Object word order. It unnecessarily uses auxiliary do. The verb does not agree with the subject with respect to number. A colloquial abbreviated form of until is used.

But hang on! There is nothing ‘wrong’ with till. Till or til is actually older than until, going back to Anglo Saxon and beyond. Scandinavian languages still use this ancient preposition more broadly in the spatial and temporal senses of Modern English to. Until does not appear until the turn of the 12th century.

The un- prefix also means till; it has nothing to do with the homonymous negative prefix. By reduplicating the temporal distance like this, the word gains a somewhat wistful, lugubrious, if not grim flavor. If you really want to drag things out, you can also add up, to produce long drawn out yawning phrases such as up until the very last minute.

We find the same un- prefix in more antique-sounding but actually more recent (14th century) unto. This word has been kept alive largely by the King James Bible, where it is used to lend duly reverent weight to joyless prognostications: “Unto dust shalt thou return,” “sickness unto death” and so forth. Different from until, unto can also be used spatially and as a fancy synonym for to: “And God spake unto Abraham” and the like.

Likewise, perusal of an etymological dictionary informs us, somewhat to our surprise, that the un in unless likewise has nothing to do with the negative prefix and is of relatively recent provenance, beefing up less or lest with a prefix that was originally on-, meaning on the condition less and borrowing some of the pseudo-atavistic weight of unto and until.

Defendants famously have the right to be considered innocent unless and until proven guilty. The until is necessary here. Otherwise, proof of guilt could be deemed to attach automatically in some circumstances and due process would thereby be dispensable.

Lest, by the way, is a contraction of the less that and means that not. It too has a somewhat intimidating judgmental or else feel to it. Lest we forget…

To return to till, readers may also be as intrigued as I was to discover that it is cognate with the verb till (prepare land for planting) by way of a Proto-German root which also gave rise to Modern German Ziel (purpose, end, goal). It is entirely unrelated, however, to the noun till (cashbox), which belongs to the toll, tally, teller word cluster.


Managing Capacity: Modal verbs in the real world

There are three modal (or semi-modal) verbs of capacity, ability or capability in standard present-day English. These are can, be able to, and manage to.

All have past and negative forms. The irregular past tense of can in this sense is could.

The usages and subtly different meanings pertaining to these forms overlap and can be quite confusing. Manage to is a relative newcomer and helps to clear up the confusion.

Problem No. 1

Like most modal verbs, can is ‘defective’. It lacks verb forms other than the Present Simple and Past Simple. To make up for this, be able to is used to fill the missing forms.


[1] I can swim means I have the (permanent) ability to swim.

But, if we want to use the verb in the infinitive, we have to revert to be able to, thus:

[2] Every child should be able to swim.

Likewise, the –ing form.

[3] Being able to swim is a prerequisite for joining the marines.

Other forms of the verb need to be used less regularly in this context. But likewise require use of be able to.

[4] Present Perfect: I have been able to swim since I was a baby.

The language (by which I mean people using language over time) has found an elegant solution to this problem.

But then comes Problem 2:

The distinction between can and be able to is also used (in some contexts) to distinguish between a permanent and temporary capacity respectively.

This is subtle to the point of obscurity.

Back in the day, I used to pose conundrums like this:

[5] Algernon survived the shipwreck because he could swim.

Bertrand survived the shipwreck because he was able to swim.

Who can swim?

The answer is Algernon, but the question understandably gives rise to some confusion.

To make the answer uncontestable, we would have to ask:

If only one of them can swim, which one is it?

Can and be able to are too closely intertwined grammatically to make this distinction clearly and cannot do so at all in the case of forms of the verb in which can is defective.


This is where the relative neologism, manage to, used modally, comes in.

Manage to clearly takes over the temporary fumbling function of be able to and leaves the distinction uncontestable.

[6] He survived the shipwreck because he was able to swim.

[7] He survived the shipwreck because he managed to swim [‘even though, he couldn’t swim’ is implied]

This is a clear example from present-day English of what some contemporary linguists call ‘grammaticalization’.

This is an ugly and somewhat misleading term.

The idea is that all grammatical morphemes and lexemes originate in pure lexical terms, whose usage has become diluted over time. This may lead to distortions in the phonetic or written form of the word. For example, ‘gonna’ tends to mark the grammatical future use of the phrase ‘going to’ while its more literal lexical meaning, as in ‘I am going to London,’ still exists.

In this case, a completely different phonetic form has been spun off by the ‘grammaticalization’ process.

In other cases there is a change in syntactical structure.

Keep as a modal verb indicating repeated (usually undesired) action only in so far as it is followed by the –ing form of another verb.

[8] She keeps hiccoughing.

[9] He keeps tropical fish.

In these two sentences the verb ‘keep’ clearly has a very different meaning.

The same occurs with ‘manage’ in its modal capacity.

[10] He managed to stay afloat after the shipwreck, despite not being able to swim.

[11] He managed the shipping company for many years.

Why and when the word ‘manage’ (or ‘keep’ for that matter) came to take on this additional grammaticalized function is a much more interesting question.

The word ‘manage’ originally appears in neo-Latin languages in the Middle Ages to refer to horsemanship (the training and riding of a horse). By the late 16th century, its use in English had extended to any activity requiring manual dexterity and to the ‘management’ of a business in the modern sense. The extended modal use appears only in the mid 18th century and I suspect that its commonplace use in this sense is even more recent.

The ‘descent’ of this word from highly-specialized aristocratic equestrian skills to something as mundane as just ‘managing to get out of bed in the morning’ provides a lesson not only in language change but also in significant democratization that society has undergone in the past five hundred years or so.

It also contains a broader message about the ups and downs of linguistic change and an implicit warning.

As I suggested above, ‘grammaticalization’ is not a good word. It suggests that there is a natural downward flow from the particular to the general and that such ‘grammaticalized’ words always lose lexical force. Neither of these claims is true, as most ‘grammaticalization’ theorists freely admit.

I would suggest, on the contrary, that this seemingly universal language process, provides evidence of a constant process of ‘lexicalization’. As grammatical elements become increasingly eroded and the rules invented to govern them growingly abstruse, people naturally reach out for more clearly visualizable words to take their place.

I would also argue the lexical content of so-called ‘grammar words’ and even morphemes is almost never truly lost and always available for resuscitation. People may say ‘gonna’ when they mean it in the modal sense and ‘going to’ when they mean it in the literal sense. But they still know in their heart of hearts that the two are in fact the same. This is conscious or semi-conscious. But the effect may be unconscious too.

The modal verb ‘will’ for example has become heavily ‘grammaticalized’ in modern English. To the extent that in some old-fashioned grammar books it is presented simply as a marker of an English Future Tense similar to that of neo-Latin languages. More enlightened modern grammarians have entirely dismissed this notion. English has no future tense so to speak, only various forms used to express a multitude of shifting attitudes regarding the future. ‘Will’ is one of them, but its specific use depends directly in many cases on the original lexical meaning of the word (‘want’), arguably increasingly so.

To return to management. ‘Manage’ has been ‘dumbed down’ to some extent, but it has also been ‘dolled up’ in the form of the abstract noun ‘management’ to refer to a whole arcane industry of theorizing as to the skills required to best administer companies in a capitalist environment, most of which are far less specifiable than the eminently practical and verifiable skills required to rear and ride a horse.

While most of us struggle to manage to get out of bed in the morning and make ends meet, it is worrying that a term of obvious aristocratic pedigree is now being used (often mendaciously) to fabricate and consolidate a new soi disant upper stratum in an increasingly unequal society.

For the Love of Affixes and Prepositions… Part 10.1 “Ob”

[This post represents a relaunch of my ongoing series of posts for poets and language-lovers on the beauty and history of English prepositions. It now includes affixes.]

Words that end in –ob tend to be coarse. ‘Gob’ is a vulgar word for mouth. When I was a kid, there used to be a kind of sweet called a gob-stopper. As the labored assonance and alliteration suggest, it was a large hard spherical chunk of candy, a treat preferred primarily by yobbish boys. Many of these gob-stopper-chomping boys have probably since grown up to be slobs—the kind of obese middle-aged men who overeat, underdress and lounge around uselessly on the sofa most of the day.

Protesters turn into a mob when things turn ugly, even when they are posh snobs. A lob is a clumsily struck ball in sport. I could go on, through knob and rob, all the way to Steve Jobs.

These are all vulgar, very English words, grubbed up by peasants from the linguistic dirt of piecework on sodden farms on the fens, scooped up by sailors from the interlingual bilge sloshing around in the bottom of boats.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the social scale, schoolmen skilled in Latin, logic, grammar and rhetoric were busy in their ivory towers inventing new erudite words beginning with ob- to much the same effect.

Whereas –ob as a quasi-suffix, coda or rhyme has weeviled its way up from the gutter in the English lexicon and still bears the hallmarks of its insalubrious origins, ob- as a prefix was handed down from Latin urbi et orbi through the august institutions of the grammar school and the Anglo-Catholic church.

But the obtuse flavor of such words, if veiled, remains essentially the same.

Obstacles, obstructions, obduracy, obstreperous behavior are obviously things—albeit abstract ones—that bump up against us, thump or oppose us and generally get in our way.

It is easy to overlook the importance of these seemingly disruptive words and the objectionable things to which they refer. But many of them have gone on to play a major role in the development of a modern objective form of science based primarily on empirical observation.

The upcoming second part of this post will examine the weird way in which the upstart obs of this world have in fact shaped our modern civilized age.

For the Love of Prepositions Part 9a: games with ge-, y- a-, chaos and nothing

Although language change is heavily influenced by historical and political factors over time, we should not underestimate the extent to which the forms linguistic features take are determined by play.

Infants acquire their first language largely by playing with its sounds and shapes, its vocabulary items and their relation to the real world. Arguably, adult second-language learners should learn the same way, although this may not be practicable in a world in which there is not much time available to spend protracted periods just ‘messing around’.

The other main influence on language change is laziness. No-one wants to play a boring complex game. But no-one wants to play a boring simple one either and will tend to introduce complicating elements to liven things up.

Mainstream linguists lazily tend to boil down this complex interplay of playfulness, laziness and historical determination to mere arbitrariness. This, however, tends to blanch all the meaningfulness and fun out of language, reducing it to a bare skeleton of reductionist syntactic structures, supposedly related to intracranial synapses and the stern commandments of evolutionary biology and, as a result, overlooking the role that historical and cultural diversity and other idiosyncratic creative features have to play.

My fondness for prepositions is fuelled by the way that these little words, while apparently complying with their assumed arbitrary subservient status, are forever impishly defying the assumed arbitrary authority into whose service they are pressed, marshalled or cajoled.

Sometimes they are reduced to ghosts. But even that does not deprive them of a certain revenant power.

Take ge-. Every German speaker knows that ge- has a clear function in the established grammar of the Teutonic language. It indicates the past participle of a verb. Some might, albeit unconsciously, connect this with the ancient meaning of ge- as ‘together’. The idea of the perfective aspect in Old Germanic is connected with the idea of putting things together, tying things up, finishing things off and cutting off loose ends, to create the perfect Hegelian synthesis (Gestalt), in which the real truly does conform to a noble but potentially dangerous ideal.

English and other more peripheral Germanic languages started losing this ge- prefix quite early. Old English was already reducing it to y- and this process was accelerated by a constant influx of Danes on Viking long-ships, who were inclined to drop it altogether.

Y- persists as a badge of erudition and connection with tradition in Middle English and even later as an affectation, by now hopelessly confused with the a- prefix, which came, by happenstance, to have exactly the same pronunciation, and perform a merely decorative, at best metrical, function, with a soupçon of the original sense of ge- thrown in.

The times they are a-changing.

Nowadays, a- seems more laughably pretentious than ominously portentous and ge- irrevocably consigned to the garbage bin of linguistic history.
And yet, the ghosts, as ghosts do, have a way of not wanting to stay put in the ground.

“Game” is a word that is certainly on the rise, be it as a form of virtual entertainment that mimics physical sports for the couch-bound obese or as a euphemism for the gambling industry that is the sleazy sibling of presumably nobler financial transactions on which the whole world economy now depends.
“Game” is also used to refer to near-extinct species of wildlife corralled onto reserves as easy target practice for aspirant demagogues, the entitled and the super-rich.

It is also used as an adjective to imply willingness to enter into the team spirit, with an undertone of necessary humiliation. A whole ‘Game for a Laugh’ style of candid camera TV reality comedy shows have based themselves on this premise of the group humiliating an individual and the humiliated victim being expected to endure the further humiliation of publicly accepting this treatment in good grace. The process is so effective that North Korean dictators have recently used it as cover for surreptitiously assassinating their enemies in plain sight.

It is all just a game.

The English word game derives from Old German ‘ge-Mann’, meaning a group of men together and by extension the kind of things that a group of men tend to get up to together: getting pissed, pissing around, picking fights, plotting and conspiring against one another, harassing women, trashing the environment, and claiming that the resulting chaos reflects the natural order of things. Fair game, if not fair play.

Ge- is thus, through this seemingly benign word, in a disturbing manner, muscling its way back into the English language.

For the Love of Prepositions Part 8 …but

In Part 7 of this series of posts on prepositions, I noted that ‘and’ often has a more prepositional than conjunctive flavor in modern English, outlined its nobler etymological pedigree and speculated as to the reasons for its fall from grace.

‘But’ has arguably fallen even further. Its etymological ancestor combines no less than three separate antique prepositions ‘by’ ‘out’ and ‘on’.

Clearly, like ‘and’, it was originally used as a grand contrastive flourish at the beginning of a phrase, like ‘however’ or ‘nevertheless’ nowadays. And, like ‘and,’ its use in this position should certainly not be chastised. I have always been particularly fond of the peculiarly Australian positioning of the word at the end of a sentence, with rising intonation (of course)—a colloquialism clearly derived from ancient usage that may itself already be outdated by now. Similar to the use of ‘not’, in ‘not-type’ jokes, this adds a degree of smirking tongue-in-cheek suspense to an otherwise banal statement.

“But” can still be sharp as stiletto, when it chooses to be so.

I end this post with a question.

What is the difference between the following two phrases?
1. a bold but rash move
2. a bold, albeit rash, move

Both clearly mark a contrast between the two adjectives used by the speaker/writer to judge the move. But, which is the stronger contrast and what exactly is the nature of the difference between the two, if any? Which adjective (if any) outweighs the other across this fulcrum of ‘buts.’